I have a lot of health conditions that put me at high risk for complications if I catch COVID, though I also seem to be remarkably lucky at dodging COVID infection even when exposed.

The breakdown of consensus reality around the pandemic has driven me to be pulling my hair out regarding how I evaluate if I am being overly cautious to my own detriment or overly risky.

I have started using a system I call my "magic number." Every week I go to Pandemic Mitigation Collective's weekly wastewater dashboard and in the bottom right corner there is a little box that says "How likely is it that someone in the room is actively infectious with COVID-19, at current national wastewater levels?"

The box is based on the national infectivity rate but you can calculate it the regional numbers using the infectivity rate in the regional breakdown section. The equation is '1-(1-R)^x = 0.2' where R is the infectivity rate. So if the infectivity rate is 2% replace R with 0.02. Then, solve for X and X is the magic number. I use WolframAlpha for this because I am bad at math.

And then I, completely arbitrarily, choose the number of people closest to a 20% chance that someone in the room has COVID-19 and is actively infectious. Why 20%? No particular reason. 1 in 5 just... felt good to me. I will generally pick the number that is *below* 20%, so at time of writing 10 people is 16.43% and 15 is 23.6%. So my Magic Number is 10. I'll really only round down to 20% if a number is like, 20.5%. But 22%? that's above 20%. Too risky.

My Magic Number is how many people I'll unmask around. I'm not gonna do it fifteen times a day and I exclude situations like public transit, grocery stores, or work where I really don't benefit at all from taking my mask off. It's not uncomfortable to me to wear a mask, so I do wear it 80% of the time I'm out and about. But my Magic Number allows me to take my mask off at a small party, or mostly empty restaurant, or other usually social occasion. Sometimes I'll strategically remove it if I need to reduce stigma for the sake of being taken seriously by a doctor or lawyer in a 1-on-1 meeting.

1 in 5 is totally arbitrary. I'm comfortable with it. There's a 1 in 6 chance I'll get food poisoning in a given year and I don't let the risk of food poisoning rule my life. I have a 1 in 6 chance of dying of heart disease, so I don't know, 1 in 5 seems OK. I don't think about dying of heart disease every moment of every day. It's not a 1 in 5 chance I get COVID, just a 1 n 5 chance someone *else* has COVID. Just because someone in the room has COVID, doesn't mean I will be infected.

The vaccines *do* have a significantly mitigating effect, after all. Someone being present in the room is not a 100% chance they'll get a significant amount of viral particles into my system, but even if it was, the vaccines reduce the chance of infection by like, what, 80%? So that cuts the chances down to a 20% chance that there's a 20% chance that I get infected, so a 4% chance overall, or 1 in 25. 4% of letters get lost in the mail and I still send letters in the mail without worry.

The number of times I roll the die increases the chances I'll get COVID. It's a D25 and rolling a natural 1 means COVID. I'm not going to roll it every day. But it's not to feel like I'm making a calculated roll when I decide to do it. If I wear a mask, it's a D1250 but hitting 1-3 is COVID (with the same number of people in the room). So you know, if I don't feel like rolling that D25, I can roll 3 D1250s instead. Just because of my job, I'm rolling tons of dice all the time that I can't even calculate. My magic number lets me feel like I consistently know what dice I'm rolling in a given situation if I choose to take my mask off.

And even if I do catch COVID, it's not a 100% chance I develop long-term symptoms... but with my specific combination of health conditions, I have no idea what that chance is.

In May, my Magic Number was 30 for a while. That was *great!* I took my mask off at like, a 25 person event!! It was cool! I felt so freaking normal!! Now, my Magic Number is 10. I kept my mask on at that same event even though only 15 people were in attendance.

An interesting side effect of this is that the less COVID-cautious people in my life 1. are way more accepting of me masking and taking precautions because they see me as having A System even though "rolling a D25" is totally arbitrary. 2. The more COVID-cautious people in my life don't see me as being reckless, cuz I got a System, it's Arbitrary, but it's a System. And I can spend 2 weeks without rolling my D25 in order to become compliant with their heightened precautions. That's like, super easy to do! And 3. Less COVID-cautious people in my life start noticing when I'm wearing a mask and instead of seeing it as a measure of my own personal anxiety, now know exactly what it means. Shel is wearing a mask today? Oh, COVID must be higher than it was before. And then they think.... oh... well... maybe I should be a little more cautious right now too. I become a living thermometer.

Anyway, I think maybe I explained this before, but I made this post because my Magic Number has dropped to 10 people :( That's a very small number! :( COVID is pretty high right now and I don't like it.